When the second half of the Champions season begins tonight, the prevailing question won't be which team is best in Korea — it'll be if anyone in Korea can stop SK Telecom T1.
Coming off of last season's 3-0 sweep of the KOO Tigers in the Grand Finals, SKT T1 are on a historic winning streak. Since losing to the same Tigers they beat in Spring's Grand Final to end last split's first round-robin, SKT have been undefeated in domestic matches. They closed out Champions Spring with seven straight best-of-three victories before rolling through the playoffs to dispatch CJ Entus in the semifinals and then the Tigers in the finals.
Summer has been an extension of SKT's dominance, their perfect domestic record lengthening to another flawless round-robin performance. SKT went 18-2 in the first half of the season, only dropping two single games to surprisingly bottom of the table squads, Samsung Galaxy and the amateur Anarchy. Outside of those two mishaps, they've been spotless, sweeping every other series they've played and blowing out Samsung along with Anarchy in those climactic third games.
Along with SKT's dominance, Faker, who was considered to be in a decline last season, has bounced back to put on one of the greatest individual seasons (so far) in League history. The former Worlds MVP was used sparingly last season as the team opted to play Easyhoon during their Grand Finals sweep. After falling to EDG at the Mid-Season Invitational, Faker's been on a warpath not seen since he led his old world championship SK Telecom T1 K squad to a perfect Champions season almost two years ago.
Be it carrying, cleaning up fights, or being utility for the team, Faker is doing it all this season and has played 10 different champions in his first 15 games this split. Compared to last season, when he was almost used as a second to Easyhoon, Faker has played in 75% of SKT's games this summer to take back his role as the undisputed and unquestioned ace on the best team in Korea.
With a championship and valuable circuit points accumulated last season, SK Telecom T1 could become the first team in the world to qualify for the 2015 Worlds. Korea's Summer champion and top circuit point team will advance directly to Europe in the fall to try and raise the Summoner's Cup. The top team in the Champions regular season will be be seeded into the final, meaning if SKT can finish the season in first place, they will either advance to Worlds through being champions (finals win) or by having the most circuit points (finals loss) with a first and then second place finish overall in 2015.
Perfection and Worlds is on the minds of SKT T1's members. Nine matches are left for each team before the playoffs, and while all nine will take their best shot at the kings, Faker and company are awaiting their challenge patiently.
SK Telecom T1 want their Summoner's Cup back, and they don't think anyone currently in Korea can take it from them.
The Champions Hierarchy
1. SK Telecom T1: 9-0 (18-2)
Although they lost to EDG in Tallahassee during the MSI Grand Finals, no team in the world is playing better than Korea's kings. Faker is back in MVP form, showing that a 'champion pool' for him is nothing more than every champion in the game. The star mid laner struggled last season with a meta that his substitute Easyhoon thrived in. This season, Faker has taken it upon himself that no matter what Easyhoon can play well, he can show his team he's the better choice.
Faker is done sitting on the bench and watching others play the game he loves. He's taking matters into his own hands this season by carrying his team to a perfect record and leading all players in MVP points with 1000.
2. KOO Tigers: 6-3 (14-8)
It's been an uphill ascent for the Tigers this split, as the started off the summer by limping into the season following their defeat at the hands of SKT in the spring final. The meta wasn't going their way, as Hojin's aggression and mechanical talent was neutralized by Cinderhulk and the tank compositions began taking over the world. The team faltered, their perfect record became nothing more than a distant memory, and the start of the summer season saw them look like they could be on track to maybe even miss the playoffs.
Luckily for them, Champions is not a sprint, but a marathon. The game is transitioning into allowing Hojin and their new jungle offseason pick-up, Wisdom, to play the champions they excel at, and the top lane diversity has let Smeb become a carrying force. They aren't the untouchable rookie monsters that shockingly stomped through the first half of last season, but they are back to being a contender for a title and Worlds.
3. NaJin e-mFire: 6-3 (13-8)
If the game was purely played in a constant laning phase, NaJin e-mFire could be considered the best team in the world. Duke, Ggoong, and Ohq are a trio of carry threats that know how to pick up early kills, snowball into the mid-game, and take the game through a strong first ten minutes of the match. The problems come apparent when they can't brute force their way to victory — needing to rely on their overall team coordination and fighting that lacks behind the other top teams in the league.
But, as always with NaJin and their long-time jungler Watch, Worlds is a few months away and that only can mean one thing: it's time for NaJin to somehow find their way back to the biggest tournament of the year.
4. Jin Air Green Wings: 6-3 (13-7)
The yin to NaJin's yang, Jin Air are a team that routinely fall behind in the laning phase. When the Green Wings are at their absolute best, they get stronger the longer the game goes on. They currently average a negative gold differential to their opponents at 10 minutes, sitting only above bottom feeders Samsung, Longzhu IM, and the winless SBENU in that category. If Jin Air can escape the early game with not too big of a deficit and can fall back on their superb flank warding and defensive, kiting ways, they can dodge and maneuver around the map to a late-game victory.
5. CJ Entus: 6-3 (13-9)
The last week of the first half of the season was simple for CJ Entus: you have two bottom teams to raise your record, and you better crush them into the ground.
And they did just that, winning all four maps to put themselves back into the playoffs, raising their game record that was falling behind other topflight squads in the league due to a number of 2-1 wins. CJ Entus are going to need a big second half of the split to make their first Champions Grand Final in over two years, and Ambition, their organization's former mid turned jungler, could be the player to lead them there. He's only gotten better in his new role as jungler, currently holding the best KDA out of all the players on CJ Entus and showing the ability to excel outside of the Cinderhulk-centric meta that originally brought him to the forefront.
6. KT Rolster: 5-4 (11-10)
KT Rolster's story at the end of the season was the opposite of CJ's: an easier start of the season forced them to come up big against the heavy hitters of the league at the end of the round-robin. They couldn't get the job done in the final week, first losing the ongoing Telecom War to rivals SK Telecom T1, and then losing to NaJin e-mFire to push them out of one of the five playoff spots. The biggest problem with KT is that teams are starting to catch onto Arrow's smallish champion pool and targeting Ssumday more heavily.
Atop of that, they've started to switch out their mid lane starter, benching Nagne recently to play the rookie Edge in last week's games. Edge, although playing well against SKT, fell flat versus NaJin, putting KT Rolster into a decision of having to choose either Nagne or Edge to start when they kickoff their second half of the split.
7. Anarchy: 3-6 (10-14)
From playoff contenders to relegation fighters, Anarchy, an amateur team, are having a successful split while not in real contention for a playoff seed. They were without a coach and team house for the first weeks of the season, and they've fought to make names for themselves against professional teams with better salaries, infrastructure, and training conditions.
This will most likely be the only time Anarchy is in Champions unless they can find a sponsor in the offseason, however, if the season ended today, you wouldn't call it a failure. They die a lot, they can be incredibly sloppy at times, and, at at their core, they are five friends playing League of Legends. Still, this doesn't mean they aren't having a lot of fun and gaining valuable experience and exposure for the future, be it on Anarchy or not.
8. Samsung Galaxy: 2-7 (7-14)
Wait until next year, Samsung. Just wait until next year.
This wasn't going to be their season to make a run to the playoffs, and Samsung probably knew that. That doesn't mean this season hasn't been good for their future. Samsung have hopefully found a mid laner for the foreseeable future with Crown, and their players from last season's last place finish are growing into respectable, positive players for the team.
Next year, Samsung. Close your eyes and think about next year.
9. Longzhu IM: 2-7 (5-16)
There isn't much to talk about Longzhu IM anymore. They were preseason favorites to breakout from mediocrity following a fabulous run in the qualifiers to make it back into Champions.
Those predictions of doing well were quickly dashed, IM going back to what they've always been: a team decent enough to be at the bottom of Champions for eternity but never destined for anything greater.
10. SBENU Sonicboom: 0-9 (2-18)
If Samsung's mantra is to wait until next year, SBENU need to close their eyes and start wishing the year 2035 would come faster. That's the earliest time I can see the current batch of Sonicboom players getting out of last place in Champions.
Nuclear is good, though. Maybe China will save him.
The All-Champions Team (Week 6)
Top: Shy (CJ Entus)
Shy's Week 6 KDA was 68.
14 kills, one lone death, and 54 assists in four victories for CJ Entus. Shy's start to the season hasn't been the greatest. With a few more 68 KDA weeks, I guess we can let slide the first below average matches.
Jungle: lira (Anarchy)
Everyone always talks about Mickey on Anarchy. Mickey's mechanics. Camp Mickey because he's so good. Mickey, Mickey, Mickey. Anarchy's logo for the first half of the season should have been a picture of Mickey wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
lira did well in his only match of the final week, getting people to think of Mickey a little less and remember that he was a former top prospect in Champions a year back on CJ Entus.
Mid: GBM (Jin Air Green Wings)
Keeping up with our players who were overlooked for the first half of the season, we have GBM. GBM has been facing off with Jin Air's new rookie mid laner Kuzan for sole position as starter of the club, and he sent a statement last week with with a 17/2/16 scoreline.
AD Carry: Space (CJ Entus)
It might not be a 68 KDA for the week, but Space's 26 KDA was good enough to get him and his team back in a winning groove to head into the second half of the split. He grabbed 36 kills in CJ's four wins, and more importantly, he kept his deaths down and only perished three times.
Support: Pure (NaJin e-mFire)
Pure has the toughest job in Champions: keeping a tight leash on his wild, overzealous partner in the bottom-lane, Ohq. Nine games into the season and Pure is doing a good job of keeping his explosive AD carry in-check, finishing Week 6 with a stat score of 2/13/33.
Until next week, Champions!
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.